The Muse is YOUR Bitch, not the other way around!

PerspectivesI’ve been having a hard time settling down to a new project these past few days, which is really annoying since the recent snowpocalypse gave me a LOT of unexpected free time that I now feel that I’ve wasted. I do understand that this is a normal wax and wane for me, that I tend to feel rudderless for a while after finishing a big project. I just finished and submitted the sequel to Unspeakable Words to Dreamspinner Press a few weeks ago and I’ve been floundering ever since. The truth of the matter is I need to get over that mindset and just pick something and start working on it. Even if it is crap. I did just that last night, even though it wasn’t the project I thought I should be working on, at least it was *something*. And something is a step up from nothing.

Smith CoronaI once figured out that in order for me to even consider earning enough money as a writer to help pay the bills, I needed to have a new release at least once a quarter. It takes a year from the time of conception, to execution, to submission, to publication, to the end of that quarter before you will see any royalties from that sale. So ideally, I should have a story in the pipeline at all times. Write, submit, release–all while working on the next one. Ambitious, I know. A goal I failed at miserably in 2012-2013. Partly because I was too exhausted to be creative. Working 60+ hours a week doesn’t leave you much time or energy for spinning stories. I would daydream all day long about what I would write when I got home, only to peter out by the time I cleaned up after dinner and answered client emails. That kind of creative black hole is very hard to overcome.

Sunny Snow BankThere’s a different kind of writer’s block, however. That’s what I’m going through right now. Instead of dutifully working on my next project in order to meet my 2014 goals for a better life, I’ve been playing around on the internet, wasting time on forums and the like. I bounce from social media site to site, looking to see if anyone has anything new to say. I’ve been re-reading old stories and watching old TV shows instead of exploring new ones. I’ve been waiting for my Muse to get her ass in gear and present me with another story, another set of characters to fall in love with. I was discussing this with my critique group the other day, and Anna Butler had an interesting perspective that I’d like to share. I’m going to quote her directly because I don’t think I can paraphrase this and have it be nearly as good as what she wrote:

And because what we wrote [i.e. fanfiction] came from a place of real and genuine love, and because that fired our creativity, we kind get to think that we should *always* have that same depth of emotion for everything we write and that if we can’t feel the same grand passion, then we’ve failed and what we write will be substandard, Β And yet, really, if we’re going to make a go of it, we should have more of Stephen King’s philosophy: writing is a job of work. Some parts of our work we are going to like better than others, sometimes we wish we could shift the timetabling around or the sequencing, but mostly we should be approaching this with a slightly more businesslike head and leave the fangirl behind.

Don’t get me wrong – we still have to love our characters and want to help them tell their story, but this is no longer something we do that *only* comes from a place of love and is satisfied with its mere creation and the plaudits of fandom. Now it has to have an outcome that is real and, more than that, is commercial-bottom-line species of real: getting published, supplementing our incomes, getting to the point where it *is* the day job. I think then that we have to look at our writing plans in that slightly different light.

Snow Forelock2I think Anna’s point here is brilliant. The part about writing being something you treat as a job, that I knew. One of the hard things for me to accept was that making writing a second job for me definitely took a lot of spontaneous joy out of it. I had to work through that myself. I liken it, however, to the difference between your first riding lesson and your 1000th. You’re on a high when you get to ride a real horse for the first time. But unless you want to be walked around an arena on a lead line, you have to push yourself to learn more, to do more. Even if it is only a hobby for you, it is absolutely necessary to learn the fundamentals of horsemanship in order to be safe around them. And if you want to go cross country, you must ride daily in order to be fit enough to handle the horse and the course together.

I thought I really had a handle on that concept, too–that it does get harder when you strive to write better. Anna’s comments about not necessarily loving our original characters with the same depth of passion we give to fandom characters, however, well, that really hit home with me. One more than one occasion, I have felt that because that same squealing fangirl devotion wasn’t there, that somehow my ‘real’ story wasn’t as good as something I’d written for the fun of it. Well, feelings are wonderful things to explore in the course of telling a story, but they have no place in whether or not the story has merit.

PathwaysOne of the things I get frustrated with sometimes is when people refer to their Muse, giving it personality and control over their desire to write. I understand the concept in principle. I usually smile and nod when people mention their Muse and what he/she/it has done or not done lately. But when people start acting as though it is another entity that does their writing for them, that it is a capricious will o’the wisp that comes and goes without direction or control, I get a little annoyed. Mostly with myself. Because you know what? There isn’t any external force that pulls the magic out of you. The magic is within you. And it is up to you to treat it like a grown-up ability and work at it every day if you are serious about it.

If you want to just have fun, by all means write when you feel like it. But the more you write, the more you *will* feel like it. And if writing is what you are meant to do, then the words will flow. Sure, the faucet may be rusty at first. The water may only drip slowly. But the more you work at it, the cleaner and fuller the force of the words will be. I know this at some level, but still, like now, I occasionally find myself staring at the faucet and complaining that the words aren’t flowing. D’uh. You have to turn the handle first.

Stick!So I found this blog post by Chuck Wendig extremely timely and motivational: The Days When You Don’t Feel Like Writing. And I’ll add this to it as well: The Muse is *your* bitch, baby. Remember that.

10 thoughts on “The Muse is YOUR Bitch, not the other way around!

  1. I’m not a writer, so I don’t fully understand what you’re going through, but this reminded me of an interview I read a couple of years ago with Nick Cave.

    Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are, hands down, my favorite music group. In the interview, I found out that every song and lyric he writes (and he does both), was carefully constructed. Each word chosen carefully, but no matter how creative he is, it’s still a job. He has an office, and works 9:00-5:00 five days a week. His office has a piano, of course, but he commented that he couldn’t write at home. Between his wife and kids, he’d never get things accomplished. They were to beautiful, and distracted him.

    It shocked me to discover that music I find so beautiful and haunting and cruel was work for him. Nothing flowed easily, and he treated his writing as a job. He loved it, but there was no Muse, just hard work. Sometimes it came fully formed, but often it was difficult.

    Not sure what my point is, besides seeing your words here echo his, and I guess I’m just trying to cheer you on. I will say it’s a relief to see no matter what we do, or how much we love our jobs, we all have to plod along in them at times.

    Also, I keep checking Dreamspinner’s Coming Soon link, hoping to see your next release. I’m glad to know it will be here soon.

    • It shocked me to discover that music I find so beautiful and haunting and cruel was work for him. Nothing flowed easily, and he treated his writing as a job. He loved it, but there was no Muse, just hard work. Sometimes it came fully formed, but often it was difficult.

      I’m coming across such stories more and more and they are both heartening and discouraging. Heartening because I know that these wonderful creations are the products of hard work–and hard work is something I can do. Discouraging, though, because these people are able to devote *much* more time to their art than I can!

      Also, I keep checking Dreamspinner’s Coming Soon link, hoping to see your next release. I’m glad to know it will be here soon.

      I won’t have anything out before June at the earliest, that will be the Not Quite Shakespeare Anthology, in which I have a short story. But I’m working toward getting something out every quarter from now on–that’s the goal at any rate! πŸ˜‰
      Sarah Madison recently posted..The Muse is YOUR Bitch, not the other way around!My Profile

  2. I need a break after every release is finished/published/available. I think the time is required to clear the mind of that project before starting a new one, and while it’s laudable to jump straight into the next book on the heels of the last one, it’s possible that might lead to burn-out.

    Set your goals and adhere to them as best you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet them. That way lies madness. πŸ™‚
    Theo Fenraven recently posted..FREE READ: The Housekeeper (Will Crawford #3), Chapters 11 & 12My Profile

    • I completely agree with you on that, Theo, but this ‘break’ is moving into its 4th week now, and that’s pushing it. I *want* to write, I just can’t settle to a particular project. I think part of the problem is I’ve got half an ear out for word from the publisher as to whether they want the story–I confess to a little nervousness! But if I’m going to stick to my plan, I need to get over myself. πŸ™‚
      Sarah Madison recently posted..The Muse is YOUR Bitch, not the other way around!My Profile

  3. Just wanted to say you made me very happy with the news about the sequel to Unspeakable Words being submitted! I’m sure DSP will pick it up, the first book is wonderful and clearly leaves room for a sequel with that much plot threads left to further explore! Seriously, I read it like 3 years ago, but still remember it vividly and look forward to a re-read when the sequel is out! And I read lots of books that don’t stay with me that way! It’s a quality book πŸ™‚
    I know there are authors out there publishing a book a month, but either they have really a lot of time to invest or the quality is low. And as a reader I feel swamped if there is a new one every month, since one tends to read more than one author. Guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t worry too much. If you can built a reputation for quality work, you may not need to publish as many books a year. As long as you have lots of promo for your existing titles. I really enjoy book blog tours and guest blogs from authors and find it helps me to recognize their names.
    Concerning writer’s block: I’m no writer, but maybe it helps if you focus on something completely different for a while? And when you have news from the publisher, maybe it will become easier to start writing once again?
    Wishing you the very best! And I’m sure to get that anthology πŸ™‚

    • For some reason, I didn’t get notification of your comment here, but I stumbled upon it just now and I can’t tell you how deeply encouraging I found it to be. Thank you!

      Seriously, I read it like 3 years ago, but still remember it vividly and look forward to a re-read when the sequel is out! And I read lots of books that don’t stay with me that way! It’s a quality book πŸ™‚

      You have no idea how good it felt to read this–I worry about how slowly I write and wondered if anyone would even still be interested in the trials and tribulations of Jerry and Flynn! This is music to my ears–and gives me hope that maybe, despite not being able to create a lot of stories quickly, that people will still want to read them when they come out. πŸ™‚

      Concerning writer’s block: I’m no writer, but maybe it helps if you focus on something completely different for a while? And when you have news from the publisher, maybe it will become easier to start writing once again?

      I suspect you’re right here, but it feels a little like I’m being undisciplined, if you know what I mean. Like I can’t really afford to let two months go by while waiting to hear from the publisher, as I could be well on my way to finishing the next rough draft. A week or two of meandering about post submission is pretty normal for me, and I *do* give myself some breathing space (it’s when I catch up on my reading, too!) but more than that and I become unhappy and frustrated.

      Thank you so much for your comments here–I can’t tell you enough how much I needed to read this tonight. πŸ™‚
      Sarah Madison recently posted..The Muse is YOUR Bitch, not the other way around!My Profile

      • I’m happy I could cheer you up a bit πŸ™‚ Things will look much better soon! Don’t be too hard on yourself! I’m familiar with the self discipline thing- but I realized that often I’m my hardest critic. Maybe you can do some writing related stuff for a while that is not actually writing itself? That needs to be done anyway and so you don’t feel like wasting time? Thinking up some blog posts for book promo maybe? I loved your contributions on The ArmchairReader and Joyfully Jay πŸ™‚

        • πŸ™‚ I love writing blog posts! I worry though that they are too long for most people–I frequently get told I need to keep them short and snappy but I have such thinky-thoughts at times!

          I think the real problem right now (aside from anxiously checking my in-box to hear from the publisher every few seconds) is that I think I might be working on the wrong story right now. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack from Frozen this past week, and I feel like I need to bust out of my self-imposed prison cell and see what kind of power I have inside me. πŸ™‚

          Or maybe I just have cabin fever. Spring is just around the corner, right? πŸ˜€
          Sarah Madison recently posted..Mia Kerrick:The Red Sheet Blog Tour, Interview and Giveaway!My Profile

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